Over the weekend, writer Andrew Sullivan linked to the findings of a 2003 study on “The role of eyebrows in face recognition.” The study concludes that when a person removes his or her eyebrows (either by shaving them off or digitally removing them in a photograph) it is very difficult to recognize that person.
More than half of the people looking at images of celebrities will fail to name the celebrity when their eyebrows are missing. And, since most of us aren’t as famous as Richard Nixon, it’s safe to bet that if we were to remove our eyebrows that most people wouldn’t recognize us, either.
I’m mentioning this study because it is fascinating to me on two levels. First, I thought it was cool. Who comes up with the idea for testing this sort of thing?
Second, I instantly thought about the human desire to express ourselves through stuff. We buy doo dads and knick knacks and a seemingly unlimited supply of things to proclaim, “this is who I am!” We think our stuff tells the world who we are, but our eyebrows — little bits of hair that nature automatically provides — say more than our possessions ever will.
Remove a favorite chair from your home or toss out your beloved t-shirt and everyone in your life will still recognize you. Shave off your eyebrows, and even your closest circle of friends will have to stare at you for awhile to realize that they know you. I’m not suggesting that you shave off your eyebrows, rather that you remember this strange study as further proof that your stuff isn’t you.
(Images of Richard Nixon and Winona Ryder from the study.)